The 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron executed the first combat tactical ferry mission for the F-15E Strike Eagle platform, enabling the six-ship to carry double their standard munitions load.
On Apr. 25, 2021 six F-15E Strike Eagles landed at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates with a modified munitions configuration as part of an Agile Combat Employment operation in the US Central Command theater.
According to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing news release, the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) executed the first combat tactical ferry mission for the F-15E platform, enabling the six-ship to carry double their standard munitions load.
“These F-15Es are carrying what is called a ‘tac-ferry’ load out. What that means is we can maneuver using Agile Combat Employment, and be postured to go forward from a main operating base,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Culver, 494th EFS Director of Operations. “This is the next step for the Air Force in Agile Combat Employment. So instead of having multi-capable Airmen that are exercising maneuver and logistics, now we’re doing that with sustained munitions to project power.”
As reported, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron showcased the initial ACE proof of concept on Feb. 22, 2021, when they flew an F-15E fighter aircraft carrying six JDAMS on a single side of the aircraft, in a single sortie.
Before the ACE proof of concept the F-15E was authorized to carry a max of nine JDAMs, but the success of the test expanded that to 15 JDAMs. The Strike Eagle is now able to carry enough JDAMs for an active combat mission, land at a remote location, and reload itself and/or another aircraft – such as an F-35 or F-22 – for additional combat sorties.
The team that executed the ACE concept for combat operations included pilots, weapon system officers, maintainers, and munitions Airmen from the 332nd with support from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.
“We were asked to come out and support combat missions with a very short turnaround, and with the bombs not being built previously here for us,” said Capt. Jessica Niswonger, 494th EFS weapon system officer and mission planner. “By carrying more bombs than we’d actually carry to drop, we’re setting up the initial days of combat.”
Even though not all the JDAMs carried can be employed in a single mission, this proves the F-15E’s ability to ferry JDAMs while simultaneously releasing them on an active combat mission – a key component to the ACE model. Previously, two C-130s were required to carry the necessary munitions and personnel to reload in a remote location. Once at the location, the JDAMs had to be assembled, taking extra time. Now the requirement has been reduced to just one C-130 and the onsite bomb building has been eliminated thanks to the additional carriage on the F-15E that allows fully assembled JDAMs to be transported.
The fighter squadron, also known as the “Panthers,” are forward deployed from their home station at Lakenheath Air Base, England.
The 494th EFS re-located to Al Dhafra Air Base in order to support US Air Forces Central priorities to promote regional security, as well as posture for future air warfare capabilities.
As noted by Alert5, although the new release says the jets came from an undisclosed location, video posted on Twitter shows they were in Jordan at Muwaffaq Salti Air Base on Apr. 19.
The forward deployed 494th EFS will begin flying air tasking orders immediately to support U.S. Central Command priorities.
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais / U.S. Air Force